Plenty of anecdotal evidence lauds sourdough as the healthier bread alternative for those with wheat or gluten intolerance, but there is little research providing data on the topic. Now new research proves the longer a sourdough ferments, the better the bread.
Sourdough is a fermented bread fortified with dietary fibers, increased mineral bioavailability, lower glycemic index and improved protein digestibility compared to its unfermented counterparts. And, as more people shun traditional bread because of a wheat or gluten intolerance, sourdough is increasing in popularity.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota are studying the effects of dough fermentation and wheat varieties to create a bread that’s easier to digest. They found the longer fermentation time makes a more digestible bread. The results, published in November in the Journal of Cereal Science, found a 12 hour ferment versus a four hour ferment dramatically reduces the short-chain carbohydrates that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut.
“Wheat sensitivity seems to be getting worse,” says James Anderson (pictured, left), professor and wheat breeder at the University of Minnesota and one of the study authors. “The motivation for me as a wheat breeder to get involved in this research is the wheat sensitivity issue.”
Those short-chain carbs – FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) and ATIs (amylase/trypsin-inhibitors) – are what causes digestive problems in some people.
“There is evidence to document that sourdough processing or fermentation in general is able to reduce these FODMAPs and ATIs,” said George Annor (pictured, right), a professor of cereal chemistry and technology at the University of Minnesota and another of the study’s authors.
While fermentation time makes a difference in digestibility of sourdough, so do wheat varieties. Ancient grains such as Einkorn and Emmer performed well, same with the modern Linkert variety.
Though the study proves sourdough and other slow-rising breads can help those who are sensitive to wheat, the modern baking industry is dominated by sped up processing techniques. Like most commercial breads, frozen pizza crust and other convenience foods. Annor says he wants “them to keep those processes as much as they can,” but using a better wheat variety will aid digestibility.
“There’s more that we don’t know about fermentation than we do know, and it’s a wonderfully complex world,” says Brian LaPlante, a fellow Minnesotan and owner of Back When Foods.
LaPlante and his wife began making their own sourdough with ancient grains from his brother’s farm when LaPlante’s son began experiencing digestive problems. By incorporating sourdough and other fermented foods into his diet, his son’s health dramatically improved. LaPlante started his business Back When Foods that develops slow food with less processing – and hooked up with Anderson and Annor to help with their research. LaPlante provided the dough samples of varying ferment times that the UofM analyzed for their study.
“When you have fermented food in your diet, it has a profound impact on your microbiome,” he adds. “And I think that will be the trend, is food will become your medicine again.”